Vancouver Maker Faire

I took the kids to the Vancouver Maker Faire this past weekend. It was pretty much what I expected. My summary of the event would be “overpriced, under good, but worth going to”.

Maker Faire

There are so many things I want to love about Maker culture but I can’t get past the fact that the majority of the stuff there is kitschy at best. Now, what The Faire has in spades is fun. It also has clever. The fun and clever mashed together is what makes The Faire worth going to. I also have to take into consideration that other cities have a much richer Maker community based on reviews I’ve read.

The core of the problem that I find with most things like Maker Faire and other tech cultures is that the focus is always on the tech. The why behind the tech is typically non-existent. I am a firm believer that the why behind a product is far more important than the tech. Good tech alone, if it doesn’t tap into why people will love it is…well…kitschy.

So, I walked away from the Maker Faire knowing that my job as a design and innovation consultant is not in jeopardy from the Maker world in the near future. But what does the future hold for the Maker Culture? There is no doubt that technologies like 3D printing will change our world. The irony in all the hubbub surrounding 3D printing is that it is the perfect case study for my comments about meaning. The 3D printing world has been a bustling industry for close to 20 years. The technology has finally reached a point, similar to Desktop Publishing in the 90s, where it is now accessible by the masses. Anyone, literally, can have a 3D printer on their desk.

But why?

As a designer, I know exactly why I need one. I know exactly what value it brings. 3D printing is going to be a geek tech until someone figures out why Mom and Dad need a 3D printer. The other thing that comes to mind as I wander down this thought hole, is that maybe the tech has already found its “why”. It is to enable more garage geeks to invent some cool gadget. There is going to be a lot of crap to sort through, but accessibility to tech like 3D printing in conjunction with things like Arduino can create some great ideas. Making those ideas businesses, that’s a whole other can of worms. I didn’t see that problem being solved by the Maker Faire. But then again, I don’t think it should.

 

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I’m Underrated

underratedLast week I was declared underrated….again. I was declared underrated and I loved it….again. I’ve gone through my life considered underrated and I have always revelled in the designation. The reason I revel in it is because for whatever reason people don’t think I’m capable of doing what I am capable of and yet I still do it. This time, the title came from my friends I play floor hockey with. The title was given to me at our end-of-season awards ceremony. The awards are given out in good fun and my award was no different. But the it reminded me that I have always considered myself more capable than what people seem to think of me. It’s done me well so far.

A long, long time ago I walked on to the Purdue Track and Field Team. I am pretty confident that none of my teammates at the time thought that I was going to make the team. My underrated moment came at a time trial late in the fall not long before the winter indoor season began. The look on the faces of my teammates after that time trial is indelibly inked into the back of my brain. The underrated walk-on dude just beat out two or three full scholarship athletes to make the travelling team.

Between that moment twenty four-odd years ago and last week’s declaration of underratedness by my friends I’ve had many other moments of being considered underrated. I don’t know where it comes from. Part of me thinks I should explore that more. Maybe if I change my behavior in some manner I will stop being considered underrated and will begin being considered a leader. But I don’t believe in the idea that one can write their own story. I am pretty satisfied with seeing the look of surprise on people’s faces when I end up proving them wrong.

Now, let’s not ignore the fact that there have been plenty of moments along the way that have proven the doubters correct. I’ve had my share of screw-ups and let downs. When I look back at those moments, there are very few of them that I haven’t recovered from. I’ve corrected the problem or bounced back and learned from the screw up.

Hurdler Studios

Which leaves me where I am now. As of last week, I am no longer a partner in a company I helped found. It was completely my choice. I made the decision because I started believing I was not capable of doing what I thought I was capable within the constraints of my current career path. I needed to regain that swagger I’ve always had that I believe, to the core, that I am capable of doing things I never imagined I was capable of – let alone surprising everyone else around me. The only way for me to do that again is to start taking risks. To put myself out there without a safety net and just run my ass onto the team just like I did twenty four years ago.

What I am doing with my new company (aptly named Hurdler Studios) is helping people get past the barriers that are preventing them from getting their new product idea to market. I feel that after twenty plus years of doing that with my own life, it is time to start realizing the value of what I’ve been doing and start helping others figure out how to surprise the world around them.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

ElectricVehicleI had my first up close and personal confrontation with an electric vehicle charging station this past weekend. Having lived in Vancouver and having Ballard Power Systems be the darling little tech company that could change the world….and hasn’t…yet….leaves me with a wee bit less optimism than I would have otherwise had when it comes to alternative fuel systems for vehicles. It has little to do with the fact that I don’t believe electric vehicles can elicit a change in driving and fuel possibilities. It has more to do with the fact that I have a much better understanding of the limitations of distribution of new fuel systems.

There are some serious flaws in the use case from top to bottom of the electric vehicle (EV) that I don’t think most people think about when talking about how amazing electric vehicles are. The first is purely the convenience of use for the end user. At the end of the day, a vehicle is an object of convenience. Until batteries are able to be topped up in 5 minutes or less like a traditional gasoline engine is capable of, it will always be a novelty. Five minutes might be a bit too low of a tipping point, but it absolutely has to be less than 10 minutes. We’ve all been trained for the past 50 years or so that if that if I’m running late for a meeting and that fuel light comes on, I can swing into a gas station and be on my way again in 5 minutes. Even faster if I don’t fill the tank all the way.

chargingStation

The next issue to overcome is infrastructure. This is where the EV has an advantage over hydrogen fuel cells. We already have a solid distribution grid that is able to fuel up our soon to be herd of electric vehicles. But can it handle the load? Imagine it dinner time rolls around and 25 electric vehicles pull into driveways up and down your block. Every driver jumps out and the first thing they are going to do, after they shake the kids off their legs, is plug in their vehicle. That is 25 high amperage charging stations pumping from the grid all at once….on your block alone. Imagine this is happening on every block in your neighbourhood, in every neighbourhood in the city, in every city in north america. Trust me, I am no electrical engineer, but I have enough understanding to see the flaw in the plan here.

The charging station I saw was at Thompson Community Centre in Richmond, BC. It was just sitting there in the corner of the parking lot. It felt a bit random. I’m guessing that there must be someone in the neighbourhood that owns an electric vehicle and it made some sense to have it there. But the humor I found in the situation was that the two parking spots that could be serviced by the charging station were occupied by two not-so-economic vehicles:

EV_parking

What I found the most intriguing about the set-up was the company behind the charging station. They have an interesting business model. The company is called Charge Point and they are building a charging station platform. They’re less focused on the hardware of the charging station, and more focused on the monitoring and data that is extracted from the charging station as it is being used. Their website graphically shows all the locations of the EV charging stations they’re hooked up to, and how many times they’ve been used. I have to admit to being a wee bit underwhelmed at the usage. At quick glance, the highest number of charges one of their stations has had was 962 at the time of writing. Considering the amount of vehicles on the road, that is a VERY small percentage for usage.

Alternative fuel is fantastic in principle. I want to see us all driving around in vehicles that don’t cough ozone depleting emissions into the air with every kilometer. But we are much further from alternative fuel Utopia than I think most people realize. We’re currently rushing towards a world that is going to have a gazillion electric vehicles sitting as status symbols in garages with nowhere to go because it simply isn’t as convenient to drive as my gas guzzler.

I’m not writing this to say that EVs are a bad idea or that we should stop developing them. What I hope is for people to realize that there is far more work to be done to make these vehicles a wide spread reality than just better battery systems or more vehicles. I want to see more companies like Charge Point solving the infrastructure from a human centric perspective beyond doing it in an “If we build it, they will come” manner . Building another vehicle to plug into the full system is the easy part. How we solve the real problems of distribution, that’s the hard part. As a designer, I also believe that’s the fun part.

 

 

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Bring The Woo!

The Woo is the moment during a sporting event when the fingertip grab is made or the big open ice hit is laid on someone and the crowd goes “Wooooooo”. It is a moment every athlete strives for. Those moments are very easy to come by in the day to day. They’re usually more subtle and far more difficult to define because The Woo moment is a very subjective one and will change from person to person. The one thing that I’m realizing for me is that The Woo isn’t brought by playing it safe.

The Woo, in the context of business, is the product that creates a moment of magic for the user. There are examples all over the place. I remember the first time I put on a pair of headphones and listened to a Walkman. That was a Woo moment. So much so, that I can remember where I was and what I was listening to. The opening of Queen’s “The Game” poured out of those odd foam covered discs that I pressed against my ears. Sounds hopped from one ear to the other and Freddy Mercury sounded like he was singing right there on the street with me. I could still hear the birds and cars in the background. It was magic.

Too much time in corporate world is spent playing the equivalent of a prevent defence. Some might argue that The Woo is brought because you saved the win. But in reality, nobody brings The Woo trying to save the win. Nolan Richardson, ex-Coach of the Arkansas Basketball Team, summed up Woo with the analogy of “Forty Minutes of Hell”. He coached his teams to bring The Woo every single game, for a full forty minutes.

I’m seeking The Woo. I’m trying to remember the last time I brought The Woo and I’m struggling…which is a bad sign.

When was the last time you either experienced The Woo, or brought it yourself?

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Phil Collins

Face ValueI had a bunch of stuff I should have done tonight but instead of doing it, I turned on Netflix. It was the first time in quite a while that I sat in front of the TV and just aimlessly sought something to distract my mind. I bumbled my way through the Netflix documentary list and I came very close to hitting play on a Nirvana documentary. Something made me keep looking, because while it looked good, it didn’t feel right. At least not for my mood tonight.

What is good?

Does it reach you? Does it touch you?

That’s the most important part.

Instead, I ended up choosing a retrospective on the making of “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. Phil Collins has always been my favorite musician. Between Genesis an his solo albums, he’s been a part of my life ever since a junior high school field trip introduced me to him when a classmate played “Abacab” on an old school boom box. It is strange how moments in your life are so clear. I remember hearing the music and everything else went away. I was instantly a fan for life.

I just get bored. I don’t like working on things for a long time.

What I found watching Phil for an hour, I never realized how much of a kindred spirit we seem to be. The way he described his creation of “Face Value” was eerily close to how I feel I go about anything creative I do. The main thing seems to be that “Face Value” was born out of angst. He states early in the documentary that the album was a glimpse into his mind after his divorce. “In the Air Tonight” was complete improve based on a mood.

Some of the best work I’ve ever created came from moments of complete uncertainty in my life. Moments when my mind was lingering on the edge of depression or burning with some kind of anger. There was definitely that undercurrent throughout that album and was confirmed while watching the documentary.

My attention span is kind of…limited in terms of “let’s do this and move on”. As opposed to…”let’s do this until we’re sick of it. But it’s perfect.

That last quote is the one that left me gobsmacked. It sums my creative process up. I’m not a perfectionist. I’m one that can find a moment of perfection in the imperfect. For me, that’s what “Face Value” has always brought to my life.

Roger Ebert

There’s not much to say other than cancer sucks. It takes people from us way sooner than we ever want or they ever deserve. Roger Ebert is an interesting story for me. Being that I grew up in Chicago, Ebert was part of my childhood. He was always there in the kind of way you don’t realize until 30 years later.

He was there when I arrived in Vancouver at the age of 24 and because he was so familiar, I never thought twice about the fact that I had just moved thousands of kilometers from home. He was simply part of my life.

Now, he’s gone and I am surprised at the affect his death has had on me. I didn’t realize that he was an inspiration with his heroic approach to his disease and life after cancer (treatment). It is a special kind of humility that allows you to put yourself in front of millions without a jaw and all the cosmetic oddities that come with it.

I never met him. I never really paid attention to him beyond knowing that I could generally rely on his movie reviews to provide me a good landmark for choosing what movie I’ll go see. Take care, Roger. I’ll show your humorous and inspiring TED talk as my thank you to a lifetime of unrealized stability.

Changing the World

It is interesting how little themes start to pop up everywhere you look when you start looking for it. It was really struck home for me when my 9 year old daughter who, while sitting in the back seat of our car, noticed the fact that she now notices dogs everywhere now that she really wants one. A simple example that demonstrates my point. I need to go and do a search through my archives, but I am quite sure I’ve mentioned that I have believed for a long time that I have a bigger role to play in “this life”. The idea of “changing the world” is a grandiose goal, but it is one that I believe I am capable of. More to that, I believe it is one that anyone is capable of if they have something they believe in strongly enough to do it.

The thing about “changing the world” is that it is a bit of a non sequitur. It is one of those sayings that is difficult for anyone to dispute. It is also nearly impossible  to measure.

I was recently involved in a conversation on the Core77 discussion forums where I first started noticing the recurring them of “changing the world” in my life. I have come to the belief that I have followed a meandering path through industrial design that has been leading me towards learning that I am capable of changing the world. As was stated in the above link to the Core77 discussion:

Then you hit 40-something and you realize that your skills truly can change the world and you’ve been wasting them on helping other assholes make a shit pile of money that want to nickel and dime you to the end.

It is a bit of a jaded approach to the issue at hand, but it is also a pretty liberating thought process. I’ve spent the past 20 years of my life learning skills that, if I apply them the way I know I can, I have the ability to change the world. I’m envious of those who learn this at a younger age. There are people all over the world that are learning…or more to the point, believing….they have the ability to change the world. I love that we seem to be entering an era that is dedicated to rising the tide for us all. It is well demonstrated in a discussion with Ken Banks and Desmond Tutu (shown below, or you can go to Vimeo here). They participated in a social entrepreneurship course that took place on a cruise ship that travelled the world visiting sites where there are problems to be solved for those living in poverty. A pretty amazing concept.  A boat full of people that may not yet know that they can change the world, but they want to learn. Simply Awesome.

 

 

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Design and Policy Management

I’ve been considering the thoughts around the curation of the design industry for a couple years now. It started about 2 years ago when I got involved in the International Council for the Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID). I’ve been using the word “curator” because it seems that the design industry requires someone that can manage the discussion of the industry. It currently seems that the curator of the design industry is IDEO. They seem to have have the most voice and attract the most public attention when it comes to the discussion(s) surrounding the design industry.

The realization I am coming to is that the term I should be using is “Policy”. Who manages policy for the design industry…specifically the Industrial Design industry? I would think that organizations like IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America) or ACID (Association of Canadian Industrial Designers). I know that ACID does some policy management, but it is not particularly transparent. The same goes for IDSA. I don’t see any indication of policy management. Even more to the point, I don’t see the driving of design policy.

I will be the first to admit that just because I don’t “see it” doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I do know, however, that most government policy makers I speak with (still) don’t seem to understand the value of Industrial Design, and therefore are not gaining benefits of tax credits (e.g. SR&ED in Canada) that other R&D fields get.

This thought process comes from the AVC.com blog where Fred Wilson speaks about his Venture Capital company and their focus on managing policy for their portfolio of investments.

So, if you’re involved with any of these professional industries I’m referring to, I’d love to hear how you’re driving policy.

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Plant Some Shit

Ron Finley provides, hands down, the most inspiring presentation I’ve seen that speaks to how we can contribute to “unfucking the world”. This topic of “unfucking the world” is huge in my mind right now. I’ve said to many people lately that I’m a doer. I am the kind of personality that needs a mission. I’m looking for people that want to help me to do my part in “unfucking the world”.

Not once did Mr. Finley use the words “unfuck the world”. He wore it on a tee shirt that was displayed in one of his slides. I love it and it will likely be rattling around in my head for quite some time. Because I need something that will allow me to move out of this place where I feel as though I’m just wading through the mire of crap around me. Mr. Finley’s purpose isn’t mine. But it is similarly motivated. It is motivated by wanting to act on something bigger than  ourselves. It is motivated by wanting to do something more than sit back and watch what feels like the world crumbling around us.

I’ve tried the garden thing. It isn’t “me”. So, while I applaud Ron Finley and his actions to try and help reimagine South Central Los Angeles…I don’t see me planting some shit. I see me building some shit and I need help doing so. I need a donor funder.

If you have some cash that is burning a hole in your pocket and you want to put it towards something that could, conceivably, help change the world. Please get in touch with me. You will be hearing more about Kijani Technology in the near future. But until then, watch Ron Finley’s video and see if it inspires you to plant some shit:

 

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Design is Sales

I’ve been rummaging this thought through my brain for several months now. It was reinforced to such a strong degree this morning that it has me needing to get it out there. Design is Sales in both a literal and figurative sense. Here’s what I mean:

Design is Sales in that if your product is poorly designed it won’t sell. Especially in the consumer realm, good design is simply table stakes for product development. So, design translates to sales.

Design is Sales is also figurative. As in, the role of a designer is similar to that of salesman. Selling your idea to someone is what design is all about. As a design contractor, your job starts by trying to sell the design process to a client before it quickly proceeds to designing a series of viable product design concepts that need to be sold to the client.

Think about the premise that the sales process is all about finding the emotional reasons someone might want to buy. Every sale is based on an emotional need. One person might have their ass in a sling because they bit off more than they can chew and now they have to bring in more bodies. Someone else might want to hire a “rockstar” designer because it pumps their ego. There are myriad reasons why people buy things. It is no different from a TV to Design Services.

So, if every sale is an emotional one, and every designer is trying to make an emotional connection to a product….Design is Sales.

I’d love to see more designers get sales training and the first place designers need to start focusing those sales training courses is on their own profession. Designers suck at selling design. I’ve never understood why a profession that is so good as a whole at creating emotional connections with products, can’t turn those skills on their own profession.

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